CRUDE oil and condensate helped make Kimrad Transport LP a very successful West Texas tank truck carrier. It continues to drive the company’s growth.
Today, crude oil accounts for roughly 60% of the Amarillo, Texas-based carrier’s business. Another 20% comes from asphalt hauling, and the remaining 20% consists of a variety liquid and dry bulk cargoes, including anhydrous ammonia, propane, refined fuels, glycol, petro chemicals, and fertilizer.
Operations are conducted primarily in the South Central region of the United States, and the carrier serves customers with a fleet that includes 180 tractors (mostly the long nose sort that any owner-operator would be proud to drive) and 300 tank trailers. In addition to Amarillo, the fleet operates from satellite locations in Lubbock, Borger, Saginaw, and Odessa, Texas, and Ardmore, Elk City, and Shattuck, Oklahoma.
“Crude oil has been great for us, and it is something that we are very good at handling,” says Brad Pohlmeier, president of Kimrad Transport. “I’ve never seen the oil business like this. Activity continues to increase, and everybody wants more trucks. There just isn’t enough pipeline capacity to handle the increased output. It probably won’t be long before we see truck shipments of West Texas crude to the Gulf Coast.
“Despite the growing crude oil activity, we’ve been able to build a relatively diverse operation. We haul a relatively broad range of cargoes, and we serve some very good customers. This is very much a family company, and we have two key objectives: Take care of our drivers and our customers. We work hard at that every day.”
Pohlmeier knew exactly what sort of tank truck fleet he wanted to build when he and wife Kimila started the company 11 years ago. Pohlmeier quite literally grew up in the tank truck industry.
His father, Greg Pohlmeier, worked for Steere Tank Lines Inc from 1969 to 1991, and Brad started spending time at the office with his father from a very early age. “He was always working, and that’s how we had time together,” Brad says.
By the time Brad was six or seven years old, he was helping out in the maintenance shop at the Steere Tank Lines terminal in Amarillo. “I got to drive a pickup truck when I was eight, and I was parking tractors and trailers at 10.”
Part-time work with his father continued when his father bought four trucks and became a lease terminal operator in Amarillo for Andrews Transport Inc. By 1994, Brad was working full time, and he began running some of his own tractors around 2001.
Brad’s first brush with crude oil came in 1995 with an initial focus in the Permian Basin. By 1999, he was managing 30 crude oil transports for the lease operation throughout west Texas.
A disagreement about the direction of the lease operation brought Brad to a turning point in 2003. He and Kimila decided it was time to strike out on their own and build their own truck fleet operation.
“Walking away from my father was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, but it was necessary,” Brad says. “It couldn’t have come during a more stressful year, though.”
In January 2003, Kimila underwent a major operation. In May, her oldest daughter, Kayde, died in a car wreck. Kimila’s father died in September.
Brad and Kimila left their previous jobs in August and began organizing the company. They filed for the operating permits in October, and the first day of business under the new permits was November 15, 2003. Three tractors and three asphalt tank trailers were ready to go, but they just sat with no loads to haul.
“We had all of our permits, we were ready to get to work, and we didn’t get a single customer call,” Brad says. “That was the scariest time. The day before Thanksgiving, we got our first to haul a load of asphalt to a roofing plant in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. By the end of the first year, we were running around 20 trucks.”
Asphalt was the sole cargo for the first three years. However, the carrier grew enough that it needed more room, and the company bought part of the property that now makes up the Amarillo terminal.
By 2007, the oil and gas shale revolution was underway, and it wasn’t long before Kimrad Transport was hauling crude oil—first in West Texas and then all over the west. “I had started working with my father again before the first crude hauling opportunity cropped up,” Brad says. “We started with two or three tank trailers of our own and our customer added two or three more.”
The initial business was in the Texas panhandle. Kimrad Transports hauled crude oil and condensate from the wellhead to whatever pipeline station was available. It was a busy time, and the carrier was running nearly 20 crude transports by the end of the year.
After that, it got just plain crazy. Calls for crude transport service came from all over, and it was non-stop. “Equipment—especially crude tankers—was in short supply,” Brad says. “We got equipment where we could. We had some 40-year-old tanks on the road hauling crude oil.”
By 2008, Kimrad Transport had crude transports running in northeastern Colorado and Brad was spending most of his time there coordinating operations and loading tanks. Finding pipeline capacity was a challenge, and some loads were moved as far as 600 miles to an offload point.
“It was hard work, but we did it well,” Brad says. “It was during that time that Kimrad Transport really developed its brand. People got to know us and our capabilities.”
It was also during that time that Brad’s father ended his lease arrangement with Andrews Transport and moved all of his equipment to Kimrad Transport, which had grown to a 60-truck fleet. Greg Pohlmeier’s operation added more than 30 tractors and 60 tank trailers.
“More important than equipment, my dad brought a range of new commodities to haul, including anhydrous ammonia, propane, refined fuels, glycol, and petrochemicals,” Brad says. “On the dry bulk side, he brought in fertilizer. We kept all of the employees from both operations, and we expanded the Amarillo terminal to 12 acres.”
Greg adds that keeping the employees from both operations has been critical the success of Kimrad Transport. “These are very experienced, very knowledgeable people who can react quickly to give customers what they need,” he says. “We still serve some of the customers I started with in 1969. Some of the drivers from my operation—about 15 of them—are still working for us. One of those drivers is 82 years old and another is 81 years old.”
The carrier continued to add equipment aggressively through about 2012, and it is still adding key employees—particularly drivers. Pohlmeier family members are well represented in the company. This includes Brad’s brother, Curt, two of Brad’s sons, an uncle, and eight to 10 cousins.
Overall operations run under the Kimrad Transport name, while crude oil hauling is under the Bulk Crude Transport brand. “Crude hauling is a different business, and we wanted to distinguish it from the rest of our operation,” Brad says.
Crude hauling is not quite as frenzied as it was at the beginning of the shale revolution. Most of the Bulk Crude Transport hauls today are in the 45-mile range, but the carrier still handles a few of the longer runs in the 370-mile range.
Fleet operations are directed from the central dispatch office at the Amarillo headquarters terminal. Staffing in the 24/7 office includes five dispatchers, five assistant dispatchers, six data entry clerks.
Technology is playing an increasingly important role in the operation. Kimrad Transport is in the midst of a major upgrade to the McLeod Software dispatch and accounting system. The changes include installing Carrier Web on-board computers in the fleet tractors. The systems will be customized for oilfield operations.
“We expect to be operational with the McLeod system in about six weeks,” Brad said in early October. “It will take six to eight months to fully complete the McLeod project. With the changes in technology, we’re seeing a new generation of dispatchers. We need people who understand the technology and how to use it.”
Technology also is a bigger factor for the drivers, especially those who handle crude oil. “We’ve already begun installing the Carrier Web units, and our oilfield drivers carry tablet computers that are used to track crude shipments,” Brad says. “More technology is coming in all the time, because crude oil customers want constant updates on their loads.”
The oilfield hauling with its higher pay is actually attracting some younger drivers to Kimrad Transport. Still, the average driver age for the fleet is 59 years, according to Joe Greene, Kimrad Transport safety director. Drive turnover is a slim 27% to 28%.
The carrier wants experienced drivers, and applicants must have at least two years of over-the-road truck driving experience. Greene says the company looks for drivers with a clean driving record, stable work history, and hazardous materials and tanker endorsements. For drivers wanting to haul crude oil, it also helps if they have the attributes of chemist, accountant, and mechanic.
Most of the new-hire training is on the job. New hires are assigned to a driver trainer for at least five days. During the first 90 days, new hires receive HM-126F classroom training, an abbreviated version of the Smith System defensive driving course, driver log management, and specialized training for specific products.
Safety was a priority for the fleet from the very start. One of our first hires when we started Kimrad Transport in 2003 was a safety manager,” Brad says. “Safety is at the top of our list. I’ve had to deal with just one truck fatality accident (involving a driver working for Brad who died from a massive heart attack in 2001), and I hope I never have to deal with another.”
The Kimrad Transport safety program includes monthly safety meetings for drivers and quarterly meetings for mechanics. Drivers must attend one monthly safety meeting each quarter.
Safety award programs include bonuses for clean reports from roadside inspections of driver logs and other factors for which drivers are responsible. “We hand out about $10,000 in bonuses every quarter,” Greene says.
The safety focus includes providing drivers with safe, well-maintained tractors and trailers. The carrier buys primarily used tractors, but many of them could pass for new.
“Peterbilt 379s are our primary choice, but we’ve also bought some Kenworth W900s and T660s,” Brad says. “We like long-nosed trucks at this company. That’s what I drove, and that’s what my drivers want. We dress them up to look like owner-operator trucks.”
Safety equipment in the tractors includes the SmartDrive video-based system for monitoring the driver and what is going on around him. “We started installing the system in our fleet 2 ½ years ago, and we believe it should be in every tractor,” Brad says. “It has been very good for us, because we realize our rigs have a target on them. We have already had several situations where the cameras got us out of trouble.”
He acknowledges that installing the SmartDrive system was controversial at first. Some drivers quit. Some of those drivers later returned.
Many of the tractors have hydraulically powered product pumping systems. STAC Therma Flow units are the hydraulic oil cooler of choice.
On the crude oil side, Troxell Company Inc built the newest trailers. The DOT407 double-conical aluminum tanks have a 200-barrel (8,400 gallon) capacity. Hardware includes Bearcat and Roper pumps, Betts valves, Civacon API bottom-loading adapters, Girard pressure-relief vents, Titan Logix digital level gauges, and L-K crude oil centrifuges.
Etnyre asphalt trailers have capacities ranging from 6,000 to 6,500 gallons. Running gear on the newest trailers includes Hendrickson Intraax suspensions and Tiremaax tire inflation systems. The newest trailers also have Michelin X-One widebase tires.
Anhydrous ammonia and propane are transported in a wide range of MC331 trailers that were built since 1960. Average capacity is 10,000 gallons, and most of the trailers have Fisher valves and Blackmer product pumps. Many of the trailers were refurbished at Texas Trailer Corp in Gainesville, Texas.
Routine maintenance of the tractors and trailers is handled in-house at maintenance shops in Amarillo and Odessa. Vehicles are serviced at 6,000 or 15,000-mile intervals. The shorter interval is for the oilfield equipment. Tank tests and inspections are handled by Federal Tank Testing in Amarillo.
Fleet appearance is almost as important as safety, and the Kimrad Transport maintenance operation in Amarillo includes a separate tire and wheel shop. The carrier uses only new tires, and tires one oilfield vehicles are replaced every nine to 16 months. A specialized polishing machine keeps the aluminum wheels looking their best. ♦